Another Way of Viewing Strength

Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for womens' access to education, left Jon Stewart speechless in her appearance on The Daily Show on Oct 9.

As the world knows, a 14-year-old Malala was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman while on a bus in the Swat Valley. She made a full recovery in England, and returned to being a remarkable and outspoken voice for the rights of women.

The "rendered speechless" moment began when Jon Stewart asked for Malala's reaction when she learned the Taliban wanted her dead. She replied,

"I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, Iif he comes, what would you do Malala?' then I would reply to myself, 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.' But then I said, "If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that 'I even want education for your children as well,' and I will tell him, 'That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'

That was the moment the repartee died, and something luminous and difficult and markedly essential for our time was held up in front of all of us. Ordinarily, we tend to think of non-violence, just like kindness and empathy, as a form of weakness. But that misses our need to take a good look at what strength really is. It is possible to be absolutely committed to stopping abuse or injustice and protecting the injured, while tempering outrage with compassion.

It is time to get over the notion that not being lost in hatred is a sign of weakness or giving in. We are ready for another way of viewing strength and a fresh approach to improving life on this planet. Think of Nelson Mandela realizing that his own guards on Robben Island were imprisoned by the system, even as they imprisoned him.

Or the Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest for promoting democracy, saying "I think it's a fact that you are not frightened of people whom you do not hate. Of course, I did get angry occasionally with some of the things they did, but anger as a passing emotion is quite different from the feeling of sustained hatred or hostility."

Or Martin Luther King, Jr., who insisted that we take the long view of justice in dealing with our enemies. ""Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."

Even in horrible circumstances, we have the opportunity for meaningful change. Back to the wisdom of the children: After the bombing of the London Underground in July 2005, like most people, my initial response was sorrow for the lives lost and anxiety about getting on a subway in New York City. While this fear was natural, Willa, the then-7-year-old daughter of friends, had another perspective. On being told what had happened in London, her eyes filled with tears and she said, "Mom, we should say a prayer." As she and her mother held hands, Willa asked to go first. Her mother was surprised to hear her daughter begin with, "May the bad guys remember the love in their hearts."

If that becomes our entreaty, and the context of our actions, we will make this a better world.